Reports of the Business Card's Death Are Greatly Exaggerated, or why bzCards != biz cards

Jim Meyer bio photo By Jim Meyer

Caught the article "rmbr launches mobile app to get rid of business cards" on VentureBeat which covers the announcement rmbrME, the new electronic connection tool from rmbr. (note: the rmbr.com site, which launched as a photo organizing site, currently redirects to rmbrme.com) The general idea is to trade vCards over email, IM, SMS, etc. and get rid of those pesky piles of pasteboard. If the ease of use isn't incentive enough, they're mixing in the funware idea via contests and leaderboards.

You may have guessed by now, but I think they've got the beginnings of a good idea and a poor implementation. I'm particularly amused by rmbr founder Gabe Zichermann's assertion that the business card's time has come and gone. Here's why I think he's wrong:

  1. Business Cards Are Infinitely Customizable: I can quickly extend or personalize the information provided by my business card*. I can also correct bad information on the spot*, e.g. my title's changed, or I have a new phone number. And the only device required is any writing instrument.
  2. Business Cards Don't Require Information Exchange: I don't have to ask you to give me contact info in order to give you my contact info. This preserves a level of anonymity which should not be undervalued. I wouldn't give contact info to everyone I've accepted a business card from; I've later chosen to contact some of those people.
  3. Business Cards Are Trivial To Distribute: I can hand you a business card in just a few seconds, less if I'm already handing them out. I can place a stack of business cards in a tray on a counter to be taken by those interested without having to make any contact at all. I can drop them in the fishbowl of an excellent bakery and cafe in Wilson, NC in hopes of winning some goodies for the next time I'm there. I can hand it to someone who doesn't have a device. These examples all demonstrate the business card's continued practical utility.
  4. Business Cards Are Static: They provide a clearly limited, time-sensitive set of information about me. If I change jobs, companies, phone numbers, email, or what-have-you, your data isn't current anymore. Effectively, the data ages and, in doing so, provides me some additional privacy with regards to those people with whom I've not formed a more permanent relationship than the original business card exchange (which, if I have, I likely want to provide a more dynamic link to my contact info). This is also true of a vCard exchange, but unclear with regards to bzCards. In my opinion, the lack of an analog to this aging process is a flaw in social networks which is becoming evident; it's currently all or nothing.

That said, I applaud the attempt toward a more dynamic contacts list and easier connections. There are some pieces still missing that, imho, are being overlooked by folks headed in that direction, but they'll come soon enough. And I'm utterly underwhelmed by the idea of competitions to send out the most business cards. It's quality, folks, not quantity.

* The business card with hand-written phone number comes from a 1997 Mother Jones article. Ironically, that lovely corrected business card image is from the "Why Use It?" page of MyDetails.biz, another digital business card replacement.